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By: one million words, Pete Jahn
Dec 21 2018 5:14pm
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State of the Program for December 21st 2018
In the News
Wizards Confirms MTGO Here to Stay: Chris Kiritz posted the annual State of Magic Online article late last week. He is very clear that Arena and MTGO offer different things, have different strengths, and are both going to be around for a while. Most importantly, Wizards has announced that you can qualify for Mythic Championships on MTGO, and that the MOCS will continue. The article is here.
From Chris’ article:  The MTGO team is committed to providing a home for players who are looking for Magic experiences that MTG Arena can't provide. Whether it is a Constructed format, a Draft format, or a multiplayer format like Commander, we will continue to support the unparalleled depth of Magic digitally. We're going to continue to deliver the best possible experience while we make improvements to adjust to the ever-changing digital Magic environment.
Magic Pro League Roster Announced:   Wizards has announced the 32 players who will be part of the Magic Pro League. The list is here. The list includes most to the people you expect – but not LSV. Apparently HoF and coming in second at the most recent PT aren’t enough. (actually, the list is the top 32 Pro Point earners in the last year, except for two who turned down the contract.) 
Ultimate Masters Hanging Around: Wizards is extending the time during which you can play UMA on MTGO. Keep-the-cards events will be around until December 26th. Phantom events will be around until January 11th.
Team France Wins World Magic Championship  Team France - Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, Arnaud Hocquemiller, and Timothée Jammot – have won the last ever Magic World Cup. Congrats!
MOCS Crash: In a flashback to a couple of years ago, a major event blew up last weekend. The MOCS failed, was relaunched and failed again. Refunds were issued. While I’m a sucker for nostalgia, event crashes are not a period of MTGO history I want to relive. 
February Tabletop Mythic Championship Formats: Wizards has announced that the first Mythic Champs will have a familiar structure – 3 rounds of draft in the current block (which will be Ravnica Allegiances), followed by five rounds of Standard. The Top 8 will be Standard.
Arena Changes Spur Debate: Arena has made some changes to prize payouts and the Arena ladder system. The math looks bad (it makes Arena really, really grindy), and Wizards has been a bit too transparent in gilding this pile of [stuff]. Reddit thread on the math here.   Saffron Olive’s article on the way Wizards has tried to sell this here. The controversy is all over Reddit, Twitter, etc.  Most recently, Wizards has rolled back some of the changes to payouts, but is still emphasizing single game matches. I discuss below.
The Timeline
This is a list of things we have been promised, or we just want to see coming back. Another good source for dates and times is the calendar and the weekly blog, while the best source for known bugs is the bug blog which appears sporadically on Not listed, but important: Wizards offers either one or two online PTQs each weekend, with qualifiers for limited PTQs running the days immediately prior to the PTQ.

Upcoming Events
Scheduled Downtimes
January 16th
Constructed Leagues End
January 16th 2019
Sealed Leagues End
January 17th 2019
Ravnica Allegiance
January 2019
Next B&R Announcement
January 21, 2019
Core Set 2019 Redemption Ends
December 26, 2018

WotC Premier Events
Wizards has announced a number of Premier events. Everything on this list in 2018 will be streamed. No word on what sort of coverage we will see for events in 2019.
·       Jan. 4: Oakland – Modern
·       Jan. 11: Prague – Limited
·       Jan. 25: New Jersey – Limited
·       Feb. 1: Sydney – Limited
·       Feb. 8: Toronto – Modern
·       Feb. 15:   Memphis – Standard AND Strasbourg – Limited
·       Feb. 22: Cleveland – Limited
·       March 1: Los Angeles – Modern
·       March 15: Tampa Bay – Modern AND Bilbao - Modern
·       March 22: Kyoto – Standard
·       March 29: Calgary – Modern
2018 Magic Online Championship Series and other events
Complete details, including schedule, rules, and which online events qualify you for which online or paper events is here. In addition, Wizards will be offering these special formats:
·       Ultimate Masters – now through December 26th phantom through January 11th
·       Vintage Cube – now through January 17th
·       Ravnica Allegiances – starting January 17th
Magic Online Format Challenges
These are high stakes events that happen every weekend. They cost 25 Tix / 250 play points, and last a number of rounds based on participation (assume 5-8), plus a single elimination Top 8. Details, including prize payouts, are here. Start times are:

Event Type
Start Time
Saturday, 8:00 am PT 
Saturday, 10:00 am PT
Saturday, 12:00 pm PT
Sunday, 8:00 am PT
Sunday, 10:00 am PT
Sunday, noon PT

Opinion Section: Arena Issues
Wizards made a couple announcements about Arena recently. The ones that are causing the most controversy appear to be another attempt at rolling back the individual card rewards for playing, the grindiness of the ladder, and Wizards emphasis on single game matches. Let’s look at these in order. First, though, a caveat: I don’t play Arena. I am invested in MTGO, to the extent that I am pretty much playing for free. (More accurately, I have several hundred TIX and play points, so I can draft and play constructed without spending any cash.) I do not have the time to grind Arena, nor any interest in spending the money necessary to play Arena. I’m also not at all impressed by the flashiness of Arena, but that’s probably just me. 
First, Wizards tried again to remove / reduce the individual card payouts for constructed matches. They have done this at least twice before, and both previous times the reaction of the player base has forced Wizards to undo the change. It happened again this time. I’m not sure why Wizards is doing this.   It could be that Wizards wants players to spend actual cash money to buy cards. It could be that giving away more cards makes the fifth card problem far more visible. Either way, it is clear that Wizards does not have the MTG Arena economy fixed yet.
Here’s another interesting question – will the Pro League players have to grind their way to decks on Arena, or will they be given accounts with four of every card?   I could see Wizards making stocked Arena accounts part of that $70k the Pro Leaguers get in compensation, but it would be a feels-bad for anyone trying to challenge them. Which leads to...
The ladder. Wizards announced a ladder structure, where players win matches to reach various levels, and ranks within those levels. That ladder has generated some controversy. An analysis on Reddit, here, shows just how many matches even a good player on Arena will need to play in order to reach the top ranks. It is a lot. If qualifying for the Mythic Championships and Invitationals is tied to rank, players will need to play many hours a week in order to qualify. Many, many hours a week, playing a game with rewards and prizes that cannot be converted into money. Equally importantly, if the Reddit post is correct, it looks like the ladder has a big sticking point halfway up. The vast majority of ladder players will be stuck at gold, which could make matchmaking problematic.
The final potential problem is that Wizards is emphasizing single game matches. For now, all ladder matches will be single game matches. Three game matches are available, but don’t count towards ladder advancement. 
Wizard has claimed that the player base prefers single game matches, and claim that 97% of all matches played on Arena are single game. That statistic may be true – 97% of all matches may be single game – but that does not mean players prefer them. Right now, three game matches are only available if players flip a toggle in set-up: a toggle that defaults to single game only. Second, Arena is grindy, and players have problems getting their 60 card decks together. Getting the cards to fill a sideboard requires even more grinding and wildcards. Finally, much of Arena appears to favor cranking through as many matches as possible to earn rewards. That drives players towards single game matches – and to resigning once they start losing. At least, that’s my understanding.
Single game matches have some advantages. First, they are quick, which is attractive to players who just want to play for a brief while. They feature more action per minute, since the games are not interrupted by a couple minute pause for sideboarding.   That may, arguably, be better for coverage. After all, no one will have to explain what sideboarding is, or why certain cards are good or bad in a matchup. (On the flip side, if someone is watching coverage of a Magic event, odds are they understand what a sideboard is, so I’m not sure I buy that argument all that much. It might be true for a casual, new viewer, but how many of those are there? And I would expect those who stay around would likely want to understand sideboard theory.)
Single game matches also have some serious downsides, which is why high-level Magic has always had sideboards. Single game matches mean that winning the die roll is an even bigger factor than in three game matches – and it is huge in three game matches. Single game matches mean much more variance, and outcomes more dependent on luck.   
Single game matches also punish mulligans and mana screw much more heavily. In a three game match, if you lose to mana screw in one game, you at least have a chance to win the other two games. In single game matches, you are just out. Arena does have a special algorithm to combat this – it creates two random hands for each player, and tends to give the player the hand with a land to spell ratio closer to that of the deck, but this does not totally obviate the problem. 
More importantly, three game matches and sideboards also help control glass cannon decks. Right now, Arena is in good shape because Standard is dominated by decks that are primarily creature and damage driven. Decks can be tuned to beat the expected creature rush by being faster, or by packing more removal, and so forth.  This is not always the case. Look at any larger, broader format, like Modern, Legacy or Vintage. These formats have plenty of decks that attack on different, narrow axis. Take Dredge as an example: dredge tends to win game one against any fair or normal deck, but those decks can bring in sideboard hate to make games two and three a fair fight. 
Now imagine that Standard gets a non-standard deck that does not attack along the typical creature/damage axis. It has not been all that long since Turbo Fog was big in Standard. We have also seen Standard dredge, mill and storm decks in recent years. More recently, Wizards has been very careful not to allow any combo decks into Standard, but let’s assume that they let a land-based combo deck slip through.   That deck can be crushed by something like Alpine Moon – but that Alpine Moon is terrible in most other matchups. In three game matches, the solution would be to put four Alpine Moons in the sideboard. In single game matches, though, you either have to play with a dead draw in most matchups, or just (practically) concede to the combo deck.  
In my opinion, making single game matches the standard is playing with fire. Wizards has the potential to be badly burned if they make this the default. I’m not an Arena expert, but I have been brewing combo decks for literally decades.   I used to bring at least two decks to my casual play group games, because we played multiplayer without sideboard. One of my decks would often be a weird combo deck that abused some really strange interaction. After I showed it off once, and it was clear their decks had no answers to whatever bizarreness I was playing, I could change to something more balanced. Sideboards could have solved that problem, but our play group just moved the treats out of my reach until I changed decks. That’s not an approach Arena can adopt.
Cutting Edge Tech
Standard: I recently ran a Standard PPTQ. This deck caught my eye. I’ll feature it, even though it did not win the fairly small event.
Modern: The Modern Regional PTQ was held on MTGO last weekend. Grixis Death Shadow won out – I guess the deck still has legs.
Pauper: Pauper has a problem: Foil.  Foil plus Gush has always been a potent combination – Gush gives you the Island and card to make Foil a free counterspell. Foil isn’t Force of Will, but it is pretty close if you have a Gush. I made my first ever  PTQ Top 8 using a deck that abused that combination.   For that matter, the Extended Stasis deck also used Gush and Foil to hold the lock. Now, since Foil was downgraded in UMA, it is wrecking Pauper. Alex has an article about the issue, here
Legacy: This week’s Legacy Challenge had a UR Delver deck with at least one unexpected card: Nivmagus Elemental. Also a pair of  Winter Orbs in the sideboard. Interesting.
Card Prices
Note: all my prices come from the fine folks at These are retail prices, and generally the price of the lowest priced, actively traded version. (Prices for some rare promo versions are not updated when not in stock, so I skip those.) You can get these cards at web store, or from their bots: MTGOTradersBot(#) (they have bots 1-10), CardCaddy and CardWareHouse, or sell cards to MTGOTradersBuyBot(#) (they have buybots 1-4). I have bought cards from MTGOTraders for over a decade now, and have never been overcharged or disappointed.
Standard Staples: Standard prices are down again this week, but these are compared to the prices back in mid-November, before the eSports announcement and the big crash.

Standard Cards
Last Week
% Change
Arclight Phoenix
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
Carnage Tyrant
Doom Whisperer
History of Benalia
Karn, Scion of Urza
Lyra Dawnbringer
Nexus of Fate
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
Rekindling Phoenix
Resplendent Angel
Sarkhan, Fireblood
Star of Extinction
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
The Immortal Sun
Vivien Reid

Modern staples: Modern prices are down, compared to a month ago, but not that much.   Ultimate Masters is having a bigger impact – although Horizon canopy is climbing! Amazing.

Modern Cards
Last Week
% Change

Legacy and Vintage: Legacy and Vintage are recovering a bit – but Ultimate Masters is crushing prices.   Back to Basics was hit so hard! But if you need True-Names, get them now. 

Legacy / Vintage Cards
Last Week
% Change

Standard Legal Sets: This table tracks the cost of a single copy of every card in each Standard legal set, plus Treasure Chests and the current booster pack. I’ll keep tracking these because they are interesting (at least to me).   (Quite a change from a month ago.)

Complete Set
Last Week
% Change
Core Set 2019
Guilds of Ravnica
Rivals of Ixalan
Treasure Chest
Guilds of Ravnica Booster

The Good Stuff
The following is a list of all the non-promo, non-foil cards on MTGO that retail for more than $25 per card. These are the big ticket items in the world of MTGO.  The list is down a bit from last week. The Power Nine – the real ones, in the original frames – are on top of the list. And even the cheesy new framed Lotus has climbed back onto the table.

Black Lotus
$   153.84
Mox Sapphire
$     92.02
Mox Emerald
$     61.64
Mox Ruby
$     60.54
Ancestral Recall
$     57.95
Mox Jet
$     52.93
Time Walk
$     42.58
Surgical Extraction
$     40.88
Surgical Extraction
$     40.64
Mox Pearl
$     40.52
Mox Opal
Mythic Rare
$     37.95
Horizon Canopy
$     37.29
Mox Opal
Mythic Rare
$     37.02
Horizon Canopy
Mythic Rare
$     36.91
Horizon Canopy
$     36.02
Mythic Rare
$     35.64
Dark Depths
Mythic Rare
$     34.51
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Mythic Rare
$     32.24
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Mythic Rare
$     32.23
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Mythic Rare
$     31.85
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Mythic Rare
$     31.39
Mox Opal
$     30.36
Arclight Phoenix
Mythic Rare
$     30.12
Liliana of the Veil
Mythic Rare
$     28.22
Liliana, the Last Hope
Mythic Rare
$     28.06
Force of Will
$     27.33
True-Name Nemesis
Mythic Rare
$     26.55
True-Name Nemesis
$     25.11

The big number is the retail price of a playset (4 copies) of every card available on MTGO. Assuming you bought the least expensive versions available, the cost of owning a playset of every card on MTGO is approximately $ 11,925. That’s down a lot since before the crash, but up from last week.      
In Closing
Happy Holidays! 
“One Million Words” on MTGO
This series is an ongoing tribute to Erik “Hamtastic” Friborg.


while I was working on this, by JXClaytor at Fri, 12/21/2018 - 16:54
JXClaytor's picture

while I was working on this, the decklists made sense, but I see something has messed up there.

working on a fix for it now, sorry.

“I’m also not at all by Alphi at Fri, 12/21/2018 - 19:22
Alphi's picture

“I’m also not at all impressed by the flashiness of Arena, but that’s probably just me". Nope.

As for Bo1: the Arena devs have been pushing Bo1 above all else for a while now. Which is strange, because when they first implemented Bo3 during te closed beta, they hailed it as “True Magic finally comes to Arena” (yes, really). There has been a change of heart sometimes between May and August, which has led to Bo3 getting hidden, first by getting buried in a menu then behind the toggle, an attempt to remove Bo3 entirely before going into open beta in August, and now the decision to take out Bo3 from mattering in ranked plays.

This is just weird, and the devs simply won’t communicate why they are taking these steps (see Saffron Olive’s article you link to). It is particularly strange because it takes no additional work from the devs - the mode is already there, including sideboarding - while Bo1, while wildly played, also engenders a lot of defiance from people because of all the reasons you cite plus the mistrust in the starting hand algorithm, an algorithm that has not been detailed because the devs are worried such details would be used to construct decks that take advantage of it. So why no leave it alone so that people who take issues with Bo1 have something else to fall back on?

There must be a reason, but for the life of me, I can’t fathom it.

The changes to the reward structure, at least, are much easier to understand, as long as one does not listen to the official line that these are “for the good of the players”...